Watch CBS News

UC Merced Scholar Excels at Math and Engineering Despite Hardships

MERCED (CBS SF) -- For some college students math can be a bore, but for Jair Martinez, it's a way to focus on problem solving skills in the classroom and in life, especially in tough situations.

"It feels just like I'm stuck In between," said Martinez. "I make sure to do my part to stay legal and to help out my parents."

The legal space Martinez finds himself in is as complicated as the elaborate math equations he works on at UC Merced. Martinez is a DACA recipient, and is required to renew his status every 2 years. It is a stressful and uncertain process for the 21 year old.

He's also a successful college senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering, boasting a talent for mathematics that showed itself early on with a wager made in a 3rd grade classroom.

"The teacher was putting out a problem. I sort of had like an classmate had another answer," recalled Martinez. "So I was told that I was wrong. But I was firm about my own answer, and so I made a bet, saying that 'I bet your pencil that I am right.' And afterwards I was right. And that sparked my interest that I am getting this."

Martinez solved the math problem and won the bet, but it may be his parents who've taken the biggest gamble.

Both are immigrants who came to the United States for job opportunity and a chance for their children's education. They worked hard and the economic downturn in 2008 hit them hard. At the time Martinez' dad couldn't find employment so he stood outside local hardware stores waiting for day jobs.

"He used to work, like go outside to a nearby Home Depot and just hope for the best," said Martinez. "Like someone [would] just ask him to work."

The family had slowly regained its footing, and then Covid-19 entered the equation.

"It's been rough, because since we were like in a poor middle class community," said Martinez. "We're trying to do our best to make ourselves stable."

Martinez' family and community's continued struggles have spurred him to action. He's working on a long term project he says will help other immigrants escape poverty and hone job skills, volunteering at a local museum restoring old aircraft and completing SRA's summer internship program.

And he remains dedicated to engineering, hopeful his DACA status will someday lead to permanent citizenship while his degree opens up career opportunities. It's an equation Martinez would like to see solved.

"I want to help qualified immigrants reach the American dream," declared Martinez. "For my part, I want to help. But not just give like an answer and then fade it away. I want to have a solid foundation of what I can do."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.